I’ve been a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan since I was six. Toys, show, comics, pajamas. If it had a turtle with a mask on it, I owned it. My fervor for the heroes in a half shell has survived into adulthood. I follow the ongoing IDW comic series, I love the new show on Nickelodeon, and I even went to the Michael Bay produced movie, because if there’s turtles of the mutant variety in it, I will be there. I haven’t kept up with everything, however, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to check out the review copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Legends: Soul’s Winter. A dark, psychological take on the turtles? Sold! I mean, it couldn’t be worse than the recent flick, right? Right?
Soul’s Winter collects a number of issues from Michael Zulli’s run back in 2007 when the comic rights for the turtles were still at Mirage. Along with the trilogy that makes up the Soul’s Winter arc, this Legends collection includes three stand-alone stories as well. What’s it all about, you ask? I have absolutely no idea.
I hate to come off as ignorant, especially as an avowed TMNT fanboy, but there is no context for what is going on in this book. Splinter is warring against Shredder in their minds or another plane of existence, the turtles barely talk and have no masks or their trademark weapons, one of the turtle’s has a spirit enter him after Oroku Saki fills him with blue light to heal is dismembered hand…yeah. As it stands, I read about a hundred pages of nonsensical spiritual claptrap and general weirdness.
The only caveat I will give is that the Soul’s Winter storyline was introduced in the thirty-first issue of an ongoing series at the time. However, seeing this makes me wonder exactly what was going on over at Mirage Studios that made them think this was a good direction to take the turtles. There is no reason given for what is going on, the world does not function how you would think it should be given previous media incarnations, and the titular characters lack any and all of the personality we’ve come to know and love. I can’t even delve far into the psychological themes within the narrative because, not only does it feel completely alien given the material, but there’s no context presented that allows the reader to let themselves get engrossed in it. I felt like I was trying to hear something really important while stuck underwater every time I turned the page.
I am all for a more mature and emotionally deep take on my favorite childhood characters. Play with their personalities, mess with their back stories, give them heavy issues to deal with. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would be happy to see that happen. But do it with respect to the characters and the world that’s been built for and by them. This story could have easily been told as a completely original property using brand new characters and it would have been better for it. As it stands, it reads as though Zulli already had a story in mind and just decided to tack it on to a TMNT comic.
The concepts and themes that were present did seem intriguing. Man versus beast? What does it mean to be mutant? Are you a man or an animal? Both? All interesting and they make complete sense for these characters, but it was executed without any regard for who the turtles are and what they stand for. Yes, they’ve gotten sillier and more kid friendly since Eastman and Laird’s first self-published issues became a children’s program, but their identities have also grown and developed. Their relationships and villains and values have matured with them and to ignore all that is to miss the entire point of why we love these guys. They are a family who fight against hostile forces because they are honorable and desire to protect those in need, knowing that they can only do it together. Here we get a crazed Splinter shouting at four unmasked, barely speech-capable hulking beasts with some weird spirit crap thrown in. This is not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story, even Michael Bay can see that.
I don’t know who this book is for. It’s too violent and dark for kids, it’s too weird for random readers, and it has nothing within it to remotely interest turtle fans. While Zulli’s art might work for the surreal landscape of Sandman, here it feels as uninviting as his storytelling and leaves you wondering you are looking at. I was severely disappointed by this book and I hope that one day we get a deep, meaningful, and unique comic about our favorite mutants because this sure as shell wasn’t it.
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